Increasing Adolescent HIV Prevalence in Eastern Zimbabwe - Evidence of Long-Term Survivors of Mother-to-Child Transmission?

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Recent data from the Manicaland HIV/STD Prevention Project, a general-population open HIV cohort study, suggested that between 2004 and 2007 HIV prevalence amongst males aged 15-17 years in eastern Zimbabwe increased from 1.20% to 2.23%, and in females remained unchanged at 2.23% to 2.39%, while prevalence continued to decline in the rest of the adult population. We assess whether the more likely source of the increase in adolescent HIV prevalence is recent sexual HIV acquisition, or the aging of long-term survivors of perinatal HIV acquisition that occurred during the early growth of the epidemic. Using data collected between August 2006 and November 2008, we investigated associations between adolescent HIV and (1) maternal orphanhood and maternal HIV status, (2) reported sexual behaviour, and (3) reporting recurring sickness or chronic illness, suggesting infected adolescents might be in a late stage of HIV infection. HIV-infected adolescent males were more likely to be maternal orphans (RR = 2.97, p<0.001) and both HIV-infected adolescent males and females were more likely to be maternal orphans or have an HIV-infected mother (male RR = 1.83, p<0.001; female RR = 16.6, p<0.001). None of 22 HIV-infected adolescent males and only three of 23 HIV-infected females reported ever having had sex. HIV-infected adolescents were 60% more likely to report illness than HIV-infected young adults. Taken together, all three hypotheses suggest that recent increases in adolescent HIV prevalence in eastern Zimbabwe are more likely attributable to long-term survival of mother-to-child transmission rather than increases in risky sexual behaviour. HIV prevalence in adolescents and young adults cannot be used as a surrogate for recent HIV incidence, and health systems should prepare for increasing numbers of long-term infected adolescents. © 2013 Eaton et al.




Eaton, J. W., Garnett, G. P., Takavarasha, F. R., Mason, P. R., Robertson, L., Schumacher, C. M., … Gregson, S. (2013). Increasing Adolescent HIV Prevalence in Eastern Zimbabwe - Evidence of Long-Term Survivors of Mother-to-Child Transmission? PLoS ONE, 8(8).

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